An interview with Slava’s favourite American cellist

An interview with Slava’s favourite American cellist


norman lebrecht

April 14, 2018

Steven Honigberg has produced a video tribute to John Martin, sharp-tongued principal cello of the National Symphony Orchestra, where the greatest cellist on earth, Mstislav Rostrpovich, was music director.

‘Slava just loved him and his originality,’ remembers Steven. ‘John’s sense of humor made Slava crack up like you wouldn’t believe. This film is based on an interview I did with John in 1987. I was 25, John was 64. After years of accumulating photos and as much press as I could find, I was able to piece something meaningful together.’

John died in November 2005, aged 82.


  • Steven Honigberg says:

    We concentrated on his year of study with Gregor Piatigorsky in 1946 at the Curtis Institute and in Piatigorsky’s hilltop home in Northern New York. John’s youth, 4 years of which were spent in the army during World War II, and his return to the cello is quite the story – John loved to laugh at life.

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      If you have made any other videos, I am certainly in the market for them. Anything on Fred Katz, another “National” cellist? He was as original and funny as John, which is no mean accomplishment. Technical question: did Piatigorsky use gut strings?

      • Steven Honigberg says:

        Fred must have been before my time. Certainly Piatigorsky played on gut strings but most likely changed over to steel strings, a more reliable medium, later like most others.

        • Ruben Greenberg says:

          Fred was long before your time, Steven. But he died not that long ago. When he left the National, he went on to become the world’s first jazz cellist, a composer and an enthnomusicologist.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    I absolutely loved this video-interview. It is more about the incomparable Piatigorsky than about John Martin-but what a “conteur” John Martin was! And what a delightful, terse and funny man and keen observer. Thank you so much for this video! It made my day.

  • Dileep Gangolli says:

    Very nice interview!

  • Malcolm Kottler says:

    Norman neglects to tell us that most of the interview Steve Honigberg conducted with John Martin is about Martin’s experience with Gregor Piatigorsky, starting when Martin was a student of Piatigorsky for one year at Curtis in the 1940s, but then continuing later in life.

    The film is 37 minutes long, so we get to hear a lot from John Martin about Piatigorsky.

    Rostropovich is a much lesser figure in this film.

    • Esfir Ross says:

      Who label MR as the greatest cellist on earth? He was inferior in his cello playing to Grigory Pyatigorsky and other outstanding of his time. Just a cult figure.

  • Susan Lauscher says:

    Wonderful interview, and it was great hearing John’s voice and laugh again. I heard him in the NSO for many years and thought that he deserved to be mentioned “in the same breath” as other Principal Cellists in the “big five.” Also got to sit with him during the few meetings we could get him to for the Kindler Cello Society. That acerbic wit was in full display.